Pete McAbee


Pete McAbee

Easley Community Member. WWII Veteran; former Athletic Director of Brandon Mill; current Historian of Brandon Historical Society.

“Our children don’t have the same enthusiasm for the Mill Village. When we get through, it will be gone. It will absolutely be gone.”


Full Interview


You lived in the Brandon Mill village growing up and attended Parker High School. Tell me about that.

Now when I was in the ninth grade, I laid out so many times I had to talk to the assistant principal…He told me, “I can’t understand why you are laying out. You see this?” He pulled out of his billfold two greyhound tickets to Sumpter, and he said, “You know what is down there?” And I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “What?” And I said, “Reform school.” He said, “Well, that is two tickets, mine and yours if you lay out again.” Well, next week I laid out three out of five days. So I went back into school…You see the english and social science teacher that I had, Mrs. Childes, she also taught rhythms, and so these guys in the class knew that if they could get her talking about rhythms and dancing, then there would be no english or social science. She had told me, that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t get promoted. This was about October/November see, so I couldn’t see no sense in going if I wasn’t going to get promoted. So Jack Reems, that was the assistant principal, Mr. Reems wanted to see me again after he showed me those tickets. He said, “I see you just don’t believe the cow horns are hooked. Now we are just going to have to show you.” He said, “I want you to just be truthful with me. Why is it that you won’t come back to school?” And I told him, I said, “Well, for one thing she has already told me that no matter what I did I wasn’t going to get promoted.” He said, “Who told you that?” I said, “Mrs. Childes.”  And there was always some girls there in the office, they called them runners or something, volunteers. And he said, “Go get Mrs. Childes and bring her here.” So she went and got her. Mrs. Childes came back and he asked her, “Did you tell Pete here that he wasn’t going to get promoted?” She said, “I sure did.” He said, “Well, I am here to tell you that if he gets enough hours and gets caught up on his work, he will be.” Now there is one thing about it. The state law says you have to have so many hours that you have to attend school to be eligible to pass. He said, “You done been out so many days,” he said, “now to make those up what you are going to do is write book reports, or in the morning I want you to come in at seven o’clock.” School didn’t start till eight-thirty so I made up an hour and a half in the morning. School got out at two-thirty and I stayed until seven. Then I was writing reports, to make up additional time, so I made up all my hours and I did get promoted. The next two years I didn’t miss a day.

What changed your attitude toward school?

I was beginning to see he agreed with me. That I had been treated unfairly. That is right. I think I had more respect for him, then. Mutual respect.

Did you play baseball at Parker?

Now we didn’t have baseball at Parker during the war years. But in ’45, the war was coming to a close and we did have baseball. We didn’t even have Parker uniforms, we had Judson Mill, Redcoats uniforms. I was 28 in the waist, and I had 34 waist pants. I could turn around in them suckers.

Tell me about working in Brandon Mill.

Well this is good, shug’. It was 1946 when I finished school and my dad got me a job in the card room on the third floor. I had taken drawin’ at Parker so I knew all about the machinery, and so I was working with this other girl on a set of frames. So the cotton comes into the card room [where] they begin— it comes in on a bail, and then they stretch it out— so each process puts a little twist in that yarns that it becomes stronger and then ends up as either thread, fillin’ or salvage- on a loom.

What else did you did as, as an employee at Brandon?

Back then they had a kids [baseball] team, and I had just turned seventeen, and we were playing, and so they let me out to go play ball and they paid me while I was gone.

How long did you work in the Card Room?

Well, I’ll tell you, Then, you couldn’t smoke in the mill so this other girl, Katherine Coker, I told her, “Before I leave you might want to go outside and smoke,” because she had to go outside all the way to the bottom. So she went, took her break, and then came back. Well, I went on to the ballgame and when I got back, man, it was just yarn everywhere. And it was because of that job. It just got too much for her. She couldn’t keep it up. And they just had cans of yarn everywhere. Well, when I saw it, ole smart me, I just went on down and sat.


Yep. So the second hand come on over to me and said, “Pete, that’s your job that’s got everything piled up here, see? Get up and get in there and help start it up.” I said, “That job wasn’t that way when I left, and when it gets like it was when I left, I’ll get up and start working.” He said, “Oh, no, you don’t, if that’s your attitude, you are fired.” I said, “Oh, no, you can’t fire me because I just quit.”  We go see Mr. Smith (who was the boss over the card room) and he tells me, see, “Pete, what happened?” And then he said, “well, after all, that is your job son, so you’re either going to have to do it or your going to have to quit.” I done quit. So then he said, “Well, I’ll give ya—” he wrote me out a slip to go over to the payroll department— went across the street to get my money I had coming to me. Well, I caught the elevator and went down to the first floor, the main floor, but when I got down there, there was my daddy and the superintendent, and I told my dad, “I just quit.” He let out a few choice words. And he looked at the superintendent and said, “How ‘bout the boy, Bill? I’ve kept this boy all the time through school, wouldn’t even make him work till he gets through, and what does he do when I get him a job? He quits!” He said, “You got anything else for him?” He (superintendent) said, “Yes sir. Up on the spooler room, up on the top floor.” He said, “You go up to see Mr. Hunt and tell him I sent you up there.” So I got back on the elevator going up, and I got a job pulling up yarn which was a whole lot rougher than what I was doing.

I can’t imagine that you would have put up with that for long!

Well, I kept up there- they had two girls that were sweeping. Well, they stayed at the window all of the time- now this was the 4th floor, waving at people on the sidewalk, at people going by. So one day I stopped the boss as he was coming by. I said, “Boss Grey?” And he started laughing (I was always going on with something). He said, “What do you want Mac?” I said, “I just…I want a raise.” I said because the girls and I are making the same thing, but they are in the window the whole time and I never catch up. I said, “That ain’t right.” He kind of laughed, and he said, “Pete, I’ll tell ya, these jobs are rated skilled and unskilled.” He said, “And all of these are unskilled so I can't raise you.” I said, “Well then, I want the next sweeping job that comes open.” He just laughed and walked on.

Did you eventually move into another job at Brandon?

Well, the guy that was a second hand there, Jess Okaida, was a good friend of ours. He liked us and we liked him. So Mr. Grey’s son (Bill) was the fixer and helped Jess, and he had asthma so he was going to have to quit his job. So Jess told me. He said, “Pete, Bill is going to have to quit his job so anytime a belt stops or something, or we get a lap on the cylinder, get in there like you know what you are doing and help out. We’ll see if we can’t get you that job.” I said ok. So that went on a couple of weeks, and I’d jump in and did everything I could. So finally, Jess came to me and he said, “Pete, Bill’s going to have to quit next week. This is his last week. You ought to ask Mr. Grey if you can get that job.” So I said I’d do it. I saw him come down the spare floor and I motioned for him to come over, and he started grinnin’ because he knew something was up. And he got there and he said, “What do you want Pete?” Well, I said, “I just found out that your son Bill is going to have to give up his job; I’d like to have that job.” He said, “You think you can run it?” I said, “I can run any job in here, including yours!” He just laughed and said, “Come in on Monday.” So I went from about sixty cents an hour to about ninety cents an hour. I kept that job until I went into service.

What was it like playing baseball for Brandon?

See, now I was playing ball and we’d play at night. They would let us off at nine o’clock and pay us just like we were working till three (because you know it was 7:00am-4:00pm; 4:00pm-11:00pm shifts) anyway, they would pay us, so I found out that me and another guy that was a good friend of mine (he was just a sub, and I were playing regular shortstop)... I found out that he and I were making the same thing. I said, man, that aint right. So I stopped Joe Anders, he was the manager, and Greg Wen, he was the athletic director, I said, “I just found out that me and Boogie are making the same thing!”


We called Fred Bird, Bogie — everybody had a nickname. My brother was named Bugs! Most of the Mill Villagers got called by a name based on what you did, what you drank, whatever happened in your life, you… we had a guy named Speedy he was as slow as he could be, but they called him Speedy; so you develop a nickname… if you talk to Marshall Williams, he has a book of nicknames that everybody had in the Village, and they carried on through high school. Even in the service everybody called me Pete. My really name is Lloyd G. McAbee. How you get Pete out of Lloyd I do not know. They pegged that on me when I was about a week old. My brother, they called him Bugs and Stinky. Use your imagination.


Anyway, I said that ain’t right. If we are making the same thing, I’m playing regular and he is just sitting there on the bench. And they said, “Well, it’s just a matter of circumstances now, we just can’t afford to give you more.” I said, “Well then I think I’ll just quit.” Well, Larry Campbell, who played second base, he stopped me Sunday the next week and said, ‘Pete, you still want to play ball?’ I said yeah, why? “Well Willie Willbanks (who was the athletic director of Dunean at the time) he’d like you to come over there and play as an outsider.” (Because each team could have three players that weren’t on the mill’s payroll.) So I went over there making a whole lot more money than I was making before. Jesse Kelly was the second hand, he would still let me out when we played (even though I wasn’t playing with Brandon) and pay me that 2 hours, and I’d go over to Dunenn and play. He knew.

The stories! It’s just on and on and on...

Baseball ran in your family, correct?

My Dad, Joe Jackson wanted him to play on his Barnstorming team, he had one that would go here and there. They would play by passing the hat and things like that. You see if you worked at Brandon, you had a job, you worked. If you quit or died, you had to move off because whoever else they hired was going to get that house. So Joe wanted Dad to come play but Dad told him, “Well, I don’t have a place to go with our family if I quit. I can't do it.” He said, “Because if I went with you, we won’t even have a place to live.” But that is what he started out doing. We went from place to place. He was really good: in fact in 1932 he was voted the most valuable player in the Western Carolina League, and got a gold watch for it.

Tell me more about your Dad.

Fred McAbee. No middle initial. He was good, and that is how we would go from place to place. He grew up in Piedmont. The first job he ever had was driving a mule and a wagon, from Piedmont to Greenville and back, hauling supplies for Duke Power. Then he played ball and that is how he got started. So he would go here and he would go there. Well, he was making good money playing ball. He got a job at Lyman. That is where I was born in 1928, then three years later, my brother was born in Tuckapaw. It is Startext now. Later my other brother who died shortly there after his birth, he was born and we were up as far as Forrest City, NC, he played. And that is how we got back to Poe Mill, and he was at City View living with my Granddaddy. Daddy went over to Judson to get a job caus’ they told him they wanted him to come over and play ball, so he went over there, him and mother, and they said they would give them both a job. Well, they gave him one and then told Mother they wouldn’t be able to use her, so she told Daddy and he turned around and said, “Well, I am gonna have to leave because you told us you could get us both jobs,” so…he left and came back to Brandon. So we moved there in 1936 and we lived at Cityview and Granddaddy moved us on a mule and a wagon and my brother and I sitting up on the back of that wagon with our furniture and everything we thought we were high company, let me tell you. Coming up Woodside Ave. Man oh man. Fred Jr. Mcbee.

What were the years like after the War?

I went into the service in ’48, and when I came out of service they had modified the spoolers and everything, and had actually cut out the job that I had when I went into the service. Ray, who was the athletic director at that time, I asked him, “You need an assistant?” Cause he has all kinds of teams and everything, and he went to Mr. Loftis and he said, “Yeah. We will hire him as your assistant.” So I had no car, no nothing, I was living at Dad’s, and that is how I met my wife, see. I was at the skating rink, over there and she was skating. There I was, the Recreation Director...Let me tell you: my wife had gone out with her sister and friends—two of them. And one of her friends was in a fight with another one, and they were just watching. We had a constable there, a deputy at the mill, he was deputized by Greenville County, but he lived in a mill house in the Village and he kept the law. Along with her sister and the girl that was in the fight, they all got barred from the skating rink. They couldn’t come in. Well, me and her eventually, the next year, got married, so there I was, Recreational Director and my wife couldn’t even come in to the skating rink. So I go to the office manager and I told him, “I am in a predicament.” He said, “What is it?” “Well, I am married and my wife wants to come in this skating rink.” He said, “What do you mean?” “Well,” I said, “she got barred from the skating rink ‘cause of the fight out in the yard that they had been watching that her friend was involved in.” I said, “Can't I get her back in?” He said yeah. And I said, “What about the sisters too?” He said, “Ok, yeah.” So Carolyn came back into the skating rink.

What was your courtship with Carolyn like?

Now the first time that I ever met Carolyn’s mother, I was playing ball.  She already had one son-in-law who was a ball player. He was a darn good ball player but he was lazy, so Carolyn carried me to her house that night, and they were all sitting around the table, and she had made chocolate cake, and they were having coffee and cake, and she introduced me to her and her husband, Gene, and I knew him, but didn’t know her mother and she said, “This is Pete McAbee.” And she said, “Is that Fred’s boy; what’s he doing?” Caroline says, “Well, he plays ball.” And Ruth said, “Not another darn ball player!” So there I was. How do you think I felt sitting there. She was a doll after that. She just had nothin’ but girls. They had five girls. And she just didn’t like boys. James (the other brother-in-law) played with the Spinners, a darn good ball player, but anyway, they made jobs for most of the ball players, like Ralph Harbin. He played triple A ball for the New York Yankees, and they give him a carpentry job. Well, he’d go out—if someone had a porch with some bad boards in it, he’d go out with the materials. They would do the replacement and he would sit out in the tree and they’d bring him cold-cut sandwiches. They just made him a job to put him on the payroll so he could play. The only thing that kept him out of the Major League was Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He was a center fielder and he was something else. But anyway, James was really good. He had a job out there rebuilding looms out there in the warehouse, and he had to be out there every week. Joe Anders was his boss and also the manager of the baseball team. Well, James would go up to Joe and tell him, “Say I got to be off.” Well, he would let him off. Well, that went on for 4-5 weeks then finally, James went up to Joe and said, “I’m gonna have to leave, I’m gonna have to quit, I’m goin’ over to Easley because I gotta have more work than I am getting here.”

Was working for Brandon Mill difficult?

There were some, every year, they went to the World Series. They didn’t make much in the mill, but they made enough. They’d ride the train up… We made enough for me to go to the World Series in 1947 over our seven game series in the Western Carolina with Southern Bleachery. My cut of the pay was enough for me to go pay my way for that week in NYC. Everything. All expenses. So we made pretty good money. It wasn’t all that good, but it was good enough back then. I was doing pretty good until I found out that Bogie was making the same thing that I was.

When I became Ray’s assistant, I didn’t have a car or anything, so I went up to George Colemans, up at Traveler’s Rest, and bought a Ford Ranger Wagon, it was a ’46, no a ’54. So, I bought that. Daddy had to co-sign with me, so, then I had wheels. Then about three years later, in ’57, I traded that sucker in for a nine passenger Ford, and that’s the one that Buggs over here rode in [Bill Ellison, present for the interview]. I think every kid in Brandon rode in that thing.

You became the Athletic Director at Brandon.

Ray taught me a lot. Baseball, I fairly well knew, but basketball he taught me the fundamentals, and of football. So I applied that really after he left and went onto another job and I got that job. Then I was able to continue with football, basketball, and baseball; there was something going on all year long for the kids. The mill furnished all of the uniforms. And the equipment.

They built the grammar schools. Brandon cooperation built the grammar school- there the brick one. It was a nice one. But they did it in such a way that if it ever discontinued being a school, the property reverted back to Brandon, so once it quit becoming a grammar school it went back. But they furnished it, it was amazing….

You worked with a number of notable students during your tenure as Athletic Director. Tell us about one or two.

Rex Lyle Carter- graduated Parker in ’43, served as Student Body President at that time. He became an attorney and then speaker Pro Tem in 1957, and Speaker of the House in 1973.

Henry C. Harrison- he is now the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Services. He founded this company in 1975 after retiring from South Carolina Highway Patrol. He was named State Trooper of the Year in 1967, was awarded the Order of the Palmetto was a recent inductee into the Greenville Technical College’s Entrepreneur’s Forum which recognizes individuals who have shown outstanding achievements in business and contributed to the prosperity of Upstate South Carolina.

When you think over your life, and the accounts which have been given of it, is there anything you would like to emphasize or make more prominent about your life?

The point I want to emphasize now more than anything else is that I am a Christian. Last year I even gave an invitation at the Brandon Historical Meeting. That is how I would rather be remembered.